Cappadocia, Turkey: From Underground Cities to Hot Air Balloons
Cappadocia is a place like nowhere else in this world. It’s known for its distinctive and unique rock formations and hot air balloon rides (over 50% of the world’s hot air balloons take off from here each year). We came here because we wanted to take a hot air balloon ride over the local towns and valleys but we got so much more than that. Cappadocia is a blend of adventure, culture, food, history and nature that we found nowhere else on our trip to Turkey.
We had planned our trip to Cappadocia so we could take a hot air balloon ride on our first morning in Turkey.
3:30am and our alarm goes off. We are up and ready to go. The balloon office is only just around the corner so we head around there and have a free breakfast (well kind of free… the balloon ride costs 180 euro per person). The pilots tell us there is a delay due to wind and after about an hour of seeing what is happening with the weather they tell us it isn’t safe and they need to cancel. Can’t control the weather!
All of the sudden we are in a town with a full day and no plans. We hadn’t planned much beyond the balloon flight.
We decided that we wouldn’t waste the early rise so we headed up to the local lookout point. The lookout is only a short walk from the centre of town and has a complete panoramic view of the town, looking out to the nearby town of Uçhisar in one direction and the UNESCO listed Göreme open air museum in the other. It’s the perfect place to watch the sunrise. We came back to this area another morning when the balloons weren’t cancelled and they fly by just metres from the ground in their hundreds. It’s an incredible sight to behold.
We headed back to our cave hotel (Guven Cave Hotel). We ate our included breakfast (Turkish breakfast is a massive spread of bread, cheeses, dips and spreads, olives and much more) and spoke to Mustafa, the owner of the hotel. The owner also happened to be from Butterfly Balloons, the company we couldn’t fly with that morning. He said that most places were now booked out, including butterfly balloons, but he would try to find us a flight during the day. We got his local advice and decided that we would go for a walk up the nearby Pigeon Valley.
The start of the valley was a short walk from our hotel. It starts as a small vehicle track leading between some local land that looks to be used for farming with rock formations either side. The track starts to climb up a narrow valley with hundreds of pigeons roosting on the rock face (hence the name). After about a kilometre or so we reached a local café. This was an amazing little place with great local decorations and a sitting area carved into the rock wall looking down over the valley. We had a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and Turkish tea. The owner gave us free Turkish delight (our first of many on this trip), free little evil eyes (said to protect you from evil spirits) and wouldn’t even charge us the full price for our drinks!
Shortly after leaving we had the option to either continue up the valley or branch off to the town of Uçhisar. We decided to explore the town as there was a massive castle carved into a giant rock formation that we wanted to look at.
We had read nothing about Uçhisar and we were unsure what to expect. We grabbed some lunch and headed straight to the castle (9tl entry). It would have been great to have a guide here but there are a few boards with information around. The castle itself dates back to the 5th century and in its peak was home to over 1000 people living within its walls. The views from the top, which is the highest point in the area, are spectacular looking back towards Göreme with the ever present snow covered Mt Erciyes in the distance.
After exploring here we went to a small cave café. This family had lived in the same cave house for over 600 years before the government moved them into their current cave house 60 years ago. We sipped Turkish tea looking across the valley to the Castle while the Imam’s afternoon call to prayer echoed down the valley. It was a surreal experience that you couldn’t have anywhere else in the world. It was a great start to our Cappadocia trip.
We get a knock on our door at 4am. Mustafa had managed to get us onto a last minute hot air balloon cancellation despite the balloons being fully booked for days. So we got ready in record time, had a quick breakfast and were quickly on our way to the balloon take off area. As we drove out we passed countless balloons being inflated with van loads of tourists being piled into baskets. We arrived at our take off area and were quickly loaded into our basket. Then it was take off time.
Riding in a hot air balloon was not like I expected. Taking off was smooth as it lifted slowly from the ground. There were balloons everywhere in the air as we started gaining altitude. Soon we were in the air with over 100 other balloons floating slowly over Göreme. The sun was just starting to rise over the hills in the distance. From up here the valleys and rock formations looked incredible. Mix the scenery in with so many balloons in the air and it was truly magical.
We cruised over the town and then dropped altitude. The wind went a different direction as we dropped into the valley and we floated back towards the town passing fairy chimneys, cave houses and hotels close enough that we could wave and just about talk to those who had come out to watch the balloons.
After cruising for about an hour we touched down in a local field. A celebratory glass of champagne and we were back in the van heading back into town.
After heading back to our hotel, having a rest and some breakfast we headed out on the 20 minute walk to the UNESCO listed Göreme open air museum (30tl Entry). This area is the ruins of ancient convents, churches, monasteries and houses that date back to the 4th century. At one point in time this was the centre of Christianity in the entire region. It remained in use until around the 1920s when the residents were expelled from the region. There is an eclectic mix of ancient paintings and carvings mixed in with more modern depictions of Christianity painted on the walls. Today it is a well run museum where they are preserving and restoring the churches to their former glory.
We had read about the Kaymakli underground city about 40km from Göreme. Unfortunately, the tours to visit it started at around 50 euro per person which was well outside our budget so we decided to try to visit by ourselves using local buses. This turned out to be a super cheap and easy way to get there. From Cappadocia there is a bus in the centre of town that leaves every half an hour or so to to nearby town of Nevsehir for 3.5tl per person (less than $1). This bus stops at Uçhisar castle on the way as well. When it gets to Nevsehir they tell you where to get off, cross the road and catch a small minibus to the town of Kaymakli for another 5tl per person (around $1). This bus dropped us off directly at the entrance to the underground city.
The city itself (35tl entry per person) is was built in the 7-8th century B.C. It is many storeys deep with only a small part of the vast complex open to tourists. It’s the kind of place you really need to get a local guide to really understand its history. We had completely planned to get one but it was so busy when we arrived that there were no guides left. There was a bit of information available but it was mostly just what each room was used for. We had read a bit about this place though and we knew that at its peak around the 14th century it was used by the Cappadocian Greeks to escape persecution from the Ottoman empire. We went through the whole place in about an hour but with a guide and more information you could easily spend a few hours going from room to room.
When we got back we went out for one last meal in Cappadocia. We tried one of Turkey’s famous pottery kebabs. Meat and sauce cooked within a sealed pottery dish for 4 hours which is then broken at your table and served, like all Turkish meals, with a pile of local bread. It was, like every meal we had in Cappadocia, delicious.Cappadocia has become one of those places that is going to stay in our hearts and our minds long after we have left. It was our first taste of Turkey and we left feeling amazing about every aspect. Click To Tweet
Cappadocia has become one of those places that is going to stay in our hearts and our minds long after we have left. It was our first taste of Turkey and we left feeling amazing about every aspect. The people are super friendly and everyone went above and beyond to make our stay amazing. The history is long and varied ranging from two thousand year old churches and temples through to modern Turkish restaurants and hotels all without sacrificing the charm of the region and the scenery is simply stunning, like nothing else in the world.
Cappadocia has become a very popular tourist destination with good reason. 3 full days here was not enough to even begin to see everything. We will definitely be coming back here again… hopefully very soon.